Fiji Food Systems Summit Dialogue - Statement by UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha
21 July 2021
“The twin crises of Covid 19 and Climate Change mean that Food Systems are on the global agenda like never before,” UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarinha tol
“The twin crises of Covid 19 and Climate Change mean that Food Systems are on the global agenda like never before,” UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarinha told today’s Fiji Food Systems Summit National Dialogue.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity for positive transformative change! But this will take commitment on the part of all of us to listen to each other and learn from each other as we pursue sustainable solutions,” Samarasinha said.
Samarasinha outlined four key recommendations on strengthening food systems in Fiji and the Pacific.
Full statement below:
UN Multi-Country Resident Coordinator Office (Suva)
UN Resident Coordinator
FIJI FOOD SYSTEMS SUMMIT ADDRESS – 21 July 2021
Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable Ministers, the National Convenor, Distinguished guests,
The health of our food systems greatly affects the health of our people, the health of our environment, our economy, our culture, our way of life. In other words, it touches every aspect of human existence.
Globalised, industrialised food systems are in crisis, and the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. According to the 2021 UN Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition, the number of chronically undernourished people has risen to 811 million, while almost a third of the world's population has no access to adequate food. Despite global commitments to end hunger by 2030 in Sustainable Development Goal 2, the number of people who are food-insecure has risen since 2014. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated hunger and is anticipated to add between 83 and 132 million more people to the number in chronic undernourishment. Malnutrition, including both micronutrient deficiencies or so-called “hidden hunger” as well as overweight and obesity now plague 3.4 billion people worldwide. As a result, the FAO now identifies non-communicable diseases from poor diets as the number one cause of premature death globally.
Faced with these realities, no one will dispute the fact that we need a radical transformation towards a just, inclusive and truly sustainable global food system. And we need it now!
For this reason, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, declared that in September we would convene a Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
The Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.
The Food Systems Summit and the National Dialogues leading up to the summit offer us an opportunity to agree on urgent national, regional and global actions needed to establish inclusive, sustainable and equitable food systems. These national dialogues in particular, which the UN is supporting in practically every country in the Pacific, will not only ensure that the region’s unique perspectives are considered during the summit, but they also serve as an opportunity for countries to recalibrate their own approaches to food systems and find local solutions for local problems.
As you begin your deliberations today, I would like to suggest four key areas for your consideration:
First – We need to place a more urgent emphasis on the nexus between food and the health of our nation.
Pacific rates of NCDs and accompanying risk factors are some of the highest in the world and are responsible for up to 84 per cent of deaths in Fiji.
Among other things, when considering the health of a society in the Pacific, we need to examine carefully the role that the reliance on food imports plays. WFP’s 2020 macro analysis of the agricultural import dependency for Pacific countries showed worrying overall market and trade vulnerabilities. With an import ratio calculation for cereals in Fiji hovering at 84% - in other words, food imports vastly exceed exports in Fiji.
High import-dependency has complex health and economic implications for Pacific Islanders resulting in over consumption of imported processed foods. This has a direct effect on the prevalence of obesity in this region, where currently over 50% of Pacific Islanders are overweight or obese.
We need to improve policies and regulatory standards for healthy and safe food, adopt taxation-based approaches, prepare food-based dietary guidelines and promote innovation in the food safety system. We must also recognize the importance of local production of nutrient-rich foods to address NCDs and food-related diseases and find creative ways to encourage more consumers – especially parents and young people.
Second – We must take concerted action to enhance the resilience and sustainability of agricultural and food production systems
Food insecurity as a result of the agricultural damages and losses caused by the three major cyclones to hit Fiji since Harold in May 2020 has been exacerbated by the catastrophic loss of jobs and income because of COVID-19. The combined effects will have a long-lasting impact on the nation’s food security, value chains and livelihoods
Here in the Pacific, food systems should be based on resilient traditional foods, multiplication of resilient crop varieties and should include adoption of improved sustainable farming practices such as proper land management and land use planning that have been successful in similar climates around the world.
Third - Blue Foods should be at the heart of Pacific Food Systems
Blue foods have traditionally been undervalued in their contribution to global food systems. Yet they are incredible sources of locally produced nutrition for millions of people around the world. At the same time, ‘Blue Foods’ is a topic that is unfortunately not given the platform it deserves in global discourses, and a topic that should lead the way in any Pacific Food systems discussion and should comprise a valuable input from the region into the deliberations at the global summit.
The Food System Summit Scientific Group has already recognised the important role that blue food plays in Food Systems. This role is particularly important in the Pacific region, but too often, the benefits of blue food from the region are reaped not by Pacific Islanders but by those who harvest the resources of the Blue Pacific from countries around the world. At the same time, this contribution by the Pacific to the global food system is highly under recognised.
Transforming our food system in the region will require a new mind-set and a more careful consideration of blue foods. It would be timely to consider a scientific assessment of blue foods and their potential to contribute to sustainable and just food systems followed by the introduction of innovative approaches drawing on global good practices to address gaps to significantly bolster the blue food ecosystem.
Fourth – Partnership is key.
The twin crises of COVID19 and Climate Change mean that Food Systems are on the global agenda like never before. We have an unprecedented opportunity for positive transformative change! But this will take commitment on the part of all of us to listen to each other and learn from each other as we pursue sustainable solutions.
Each of the 5 Fiji Food Systems Summit Action Track dialogues, have highlighted the importance of multi-sector collaboration to enable more equitable and inclusive participation.
Historically, food has been seen as a commodity or the domain of one or two Ministries such as agriculture or fisheries or been captured by big business with little voice for consumers.
To compound matters, one of the most challenging aspects of building a viable and just food system around the world is the low level of trust we have in each other in many countries. The UN Secretary General through this summit is calling on governments, companies and communities to work together to build that trust. And so, we must expand the conversation to involve everyone with a stake in food systems until we arrive at the solutions that will end hunger and malnutrition, protect the environment, and increase equity.
To quote Agnes Kalibata, the Secretary General’s Envoy for the Food Systems Summit:
“Democratizing the discussion about food systems is vital because people do not eat ideas and policies, they eat food grown and delivered by other people, who work in fields, in factories, in research labs, in distribution centers, in shops, and in restaurants. It is all of these people who have the knowledge, insights, and understanding to help improve the system at large and make it more inclusive, more sustainable, and more resilient.”
From wet markets to farmers markets, from supply chains to production lines, from land management to fishing practices, there is an urgent need to ensure the entirety of any Food system is inclusive.
I would like to commend the commitment demonstrated in previous dialogues to developing protection mechanisms targeting hard to reach poor rural people, with a strong focus on women and youth. I urge everyone to also extend these protections to persons with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
Beyond protections – it is imperative that all food systems discussions, solutions and pathways are inclusive. What we eat and drink is a deeply personal and intimate exercise. And so, everyone’s voice matters. It is only through such a diverse stakeholder owned process that we can finally arrive at an equitable, nutritious and sustainable food system for all.
Dear friends, these National Food System Summit Dialogues are a critical element of the Summit preparatory process because they ensure that the voice of the Pacific will be heard in the global discussion. The conversation that you will have here today will enhance international analysis, lead to innovative regional exploration and the development of game changing national solutions.
I look forward to shining a light on the outcomes of this dialogue and those around the Pacific in September’s World Food Summit. We must ensure that the challenges you identify along with the solutions you propose are recognised and result in a commitment made by the UN member states to strengthen food systems that are particularly fragile in our region and Small Islands Developing States in general.
But above all I look forward to taking the steps needed together to inclusively and sustainably meet national food system needs beyond the summit. Taking the World Summit Outcomes as a guidance and holding participants to account while rolling up our sleeves locally and making the difference for those at risk on every one of our beautiful Pacific islands.
Ultimately, global partnerships and local commitment and action must go hand in hand.
I thank you again and wish you the best in your deliberations.